Lessons I Wish I Never Had To Learn

Lesson #4: Be a traveling companion.

The truth is, I never really “left my mother in a nursing home.” Yes, she lived in the skilled nursing residence, but I was there with her nearly every day. We talked. We watched detective shows on television. I cut her hair and gave her manicures. I bought a portable DVD player and we binge-watched all six seasons of Downton Abbey. I sang along with the soundtracks of old movie musicals to make her laugh. I made her ice cream sodas. The stroke severely compromised my mother’s cognition and communication skills. Those skills kept declining through her last months. We still communicated. There were times when we just sat and looked at each other, transferring love even when words deserted us. Those months when I was traveling with her on her journey towards the end of life were gut-crushing and almost unbearable. Still, I feel like my bond with my mother is more exquisite now because of that time of sharing.

It isn’t that important what you do when with a dying parent. It is way more important just to be there. The most important thing to a person who is dying is for that person to know that she is loved and that her life has had value. That is really what I was doing for my mother as her traveling companion.

Lesson #5: Let go.

I traveled with my mother for thirteen excruciating, exhausting, and amazing months. It was hard to let go when the time finally came. I saw my mother start slipping away from me in that thirteenth month. In the last weeks and days of a person’s life, it is important for that person to complete her own internal journey. That journey belongs to the dying person. It must be whatever it must be for that person. At some level, death is something that we each have to do on our own. Traveling with my mother on her path was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. It was unimaginably harder to know that she was coming to a fork in the road where she would go one way and I would not be able to follow.

My mother’s spirit and mine tangled together for most of my life. In her last months, those tangles became more matted and stubborn. We both knew that we were coming to the fork in the road, but it was as if neither one of us wanted to be the first to turn away from the other. I had to stop clutching those tangles and let her know it was safe for her to allow them to slide apart. Then, I just stayed at the fork of the road and watched while she went her own way. She fell asleep. I’m sure that, when she awoke, she found herself in God’s dwelling place instead of in a nursing home bed.

I hope these lessons are helpful to others who are walking the same shaky, shuddering path that I did. I know, however, that the true learning is in the living. Everyone who takes this challenging, tempering journey will learn their own lessons- all different and all precious.

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  1. This is a great summary of what a person can do to be prepared. For my family, since I have only one son, it is easier to plan my living will etc., so they can find everything in one place. I have a black box with all the final paperwork for them to review and see where my paperwork is and to review these with them.

    I have all that prepared,but to this date, they have not tried to review these papers to be prepared for the inevitable one of these days. One of these days I hope to review the little black box with them.


  2. I am dealing with this same situation with my 96year old mother. Thank goodness i have 6 siblings and we all take turns sitting with her 24/7. We have noticed a small decline where she is forgetting how to do things and just take it as it is. We do not wish for her to be in a home as she wouldnt last a week there. I have the feeling we are going through what a lot of people go through, but we accept it as she is our mother. I have done everything i can to make an easy transition for my son when the time comes for me to go in a home because of my in-laws. Nothing written down when the time comes. Thank goodness my mother had the wisdom to do that and put it in a trust.

  3. It is a difficult conversation, I know, Lois, but I’m sure your son will appreciate the information later on down the road. I feel like my mother tried to tell me more before she got sick and I think I probably resisted the discussion, not wanting to think about a time when she would be so compromised. I wish I had been more open and paid more attention. It would have helped later.

  4. Much love, peace, and strength to you on your journey with your mom, Susie. It is so unbelievably hard. I am sure you are being a wonderful traveling companion to your mother. I often tried to encourage myself by remembering that most people do have to face similar challenges watching a parent slowly decline. It helped a little bit to realize it must be bearable because so many people do bear it, but I don’t think life is ever the same after going through that experience.

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